Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Value of Ritual June 25, 2011

In 1997 four other women and I formed an organization we called The Matrix. Our purpose was to discover, define, and address what is valuable in the lives of women. Having experienced many benefits from engaging in personal rituals, it was important to me to find concrete and memorable ways to express our hopes and desires for the Matrix — for example, to devise meaningful programs, to relate honestly, to work in harmony with one another, and to help women create connections with their own deep wells of wisdom — and so I created rituals for each meeting as well as the events we produced. To my delight, the others participated eagerly, and after a while I earned the unofficial title of “Ritual Lady,” a distinction I wore with great honor.

At first, the most obvious benefit of our planning session rituals was that they connected us with our innermost selves, often at levels much deeper than those normally accessible. Rarely did we complete a ritual without deep emotion and affirming new insights. This soul-baring work established the foundation for an unusual degree of intimacy and trust which gradually changed our group from a secular organization into a spiritual community. As a woman who has been very slow to trust that others would accept me if I spoke my soul’s truths, I experienced a huge breakthrough the first time my Matrix sisters created a special ritual for me in which to express some anger. Their encouragement to communicate honestly and openly, and their acceptance when I did, was life-changing.

I would never have had the courage to do this if we had not, meeting after meeting, month after month, year after year taken the time to create a sacred container for ourselves and our work through ritual. For me, this proves the truth of an assertion by Kay Turner in her article, “Contemporary Feminist Rituals,” that “Feminist ritual practice is currently the most important model for symbolic and, therefore, psychic and spiritual change in women.”

Whether personal or collective, rituals help transform individual souls and bring them into proper relationship with One Soul. In Turner’s words, “…ritual space and activity are sacred in the sense of representing the possibility of self-transformation. Part of the power and the fear experienced in ritual is the realization that one may change, become ultimately different, as a result of the experience or that the experience may suddenly make recognizable change that has been slowly rising from the depths of personality and ideology.”

A major benefit of ritual is growth in consciousness. As I wrote in my post from February, 2011 titled “Your Body As Your Partner in Dreamwork,” I’ve found that participating in original rituals helps me clarify and integrate important new insights. Even if I should someday forget the ritual my Matrix sisters conducted for me, the courage, relief, self-validation and personal empowerment I experienced changed me forever. I still feel anger and other powerful emotions, of course, but I am no longer at their mercy, nor do I feel compelled to deny them healthy outlets, for the simple reason that I am more conscious.

Before I began writing this post I lit the lemon grass and wheat-scented candle on my desk and spent a moment in quiet self-awareness. This never fails to inspire me. When I am finished, extinguishing it will bring the comfort of knowing I have completed a task that is important to my soul. What are the rituals that nourish your soul?

 

A Path With Heart June 21, 2011

Here’s a spiritual truth I’ve learned through personal experience. Without self-knowledge, all the offerings of organized religion — group worship, teachings, scriptures, retreats, sacraments, guidance from helpful religious professionals — and all the correct beliefs, good intentions and divine interventions we can experience are not enough to transform us into spiritually mature beings. Why? Because there is no such thing as spiritual maturity without psychological awareness! You can no more separate your spiritual self from the rest of your psyche than you can separate your right brain from your left and still be a whole, balanced human being.

In A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield tells the story of how he spent 10 years, many of them as a Buddhist monk, in systematic spiritual practices conducted primarily through his mind. Having had visions, revelations, and many deep awakenings and new understandings, this holy man returned to the United States to work and continue his studies in graduate school. To his surprise, he discovered that his years of meditation had helped him very little with his feelings or human relationships. In his words,

“I was still emotionally immature, acting out the same painful patterns of blame and fear, acceptance and rejection that I had before my Buddhist training; only the horror now was that I was beginning to see these patterns more clearly. I could do loving-kindness meditations for a thousand beings elsewhere but had terrible trouble relating intimately to one person here and now. I had used the strength of my mind in meditation to suppress painful feelings, and all too often I didn’t even recognize that I was angry, sad, grieving, or frustrated until a long time later. The roots of my unhappiness in relationships had not been examined, I had very few skills for dealing with my feelings or for engaging on an emotional level or for living wisely with my friends and loved ones.”

Many of us have known spiritually-oriented people who think very well of themselves yet are arrogant, mean-spirited, impatient, intolerant, critical or unloving. This common phenomenon is partly why Freud was so critical of religion. He must have asked himself many times how people who professed to love God could be so hateful to their families and neighbors; how such lofty ideals could co-exist with such lousy relationships. In the face of this perceived hypocrisy he dismissed humanity’s spiritual nature and focused on understanding the sexual instinct, the repression of which he believed to be the true source of our problems.

It would take Freud’s maverick mentee, Carl Jung, to discover the fundamental reality of our spiritual natures and understand that they cannot be fully activated and empowered unless we take our inner lives seriously and commit ourselves to owning and integrating our disowned qualities — instincts, emotions, hidden motivations, archetypal inheritance, everything. Jung had learned for himself that neither psychological nor spiritual dogma can heal our souls and transform us into spirit persons:  only consciousness can do that.

Jung died 50 years ago this month. To celebrate this spiritual and psychological pioneer whose work made all the difference in my life, I’d like to recommend two sites to anyone interested in learning more. For information about how you can start a Centerpoint study group write to: centerpointec@gmail.com. For a list of Jungian books you can use to begin your own program of study, check out Inner City Books.  I’m pretty sure you’ll never regret it.

 

Journey to Summer Camp June 18, 2011

Today we’re on our way back to the mountains for a cooler, kinder summer. Our car is filled with various essentials, (my clothes mostly!), and carries an equally stuffed “pod” on the roof. But this year the back seat is not occupied by Bear, my best golden retriever friend who snoozed there on our annual treks for many years, or by the hanging rod with my clothes. For the first time it will be filled by our two granddaughters.

This was their idea. When their mother asked them if they wanted to attend a camp this summer they said they wanted to go to Camp MaBoppa! In case you hadn’t guessed, their names for us are Ma and Boppa. They like “Camp MaBoppa” because it sounds Native American, which is fitting since our summer home is near Cherokee, NC. We know they used to hunt deer and bear on our land because my mother-in-law once found an arrowhead in Buck Creek. The mountain on which our cabin stands is called Deer Lick by the locals, but the deer are long gone. In fact, the creek was named for the last buck to be killed there.  But there are still lots of bears.

As we return to the wilderness home of my soul I’m thinking about the choices that brought me to this moment. I could have made so many wrong turns on my journey. I went to college in the 60’s, a watershed decade for America. Some of the boys in my generation died in the Viet Nam war. Some of the girls became hippy drop-outs, rock band groupies, Playboy bunnies and swingers who, with the invention of the “pill” succumbed to the soul-numbing pleasures of free love or surrendered to the pain-escaping allure of the drug culture, never to recover their balance. How did I manage to keep mine?

Many women of my generation joined the early, angry years of the feminist movement when we were shedding the detritus of thousands of years of repression — the stereotypes, glass ceilings, condescending attitudes and religious prohibitions that had limited our options and buried our souls. Some sacrificed the pleasures of family and children for careers only to regret their choices in later years. Some, like me, struggled to combine both with varying degrees of success and satisfaction. Most managed to move past our rage to places of forgiveness and self-respect, but a few were sucked into whirlpools of heart-wrenching, relationship-destroying disappointment, bitterness and blame. How did I survive that shipwreck?

I’ve always assumed most of the credit belongs to the positive models of my mother and father, but I know of many loving people whose children seem hell-bent on self-destruction so I can’t stop there. There must be many factors, genetic inheritance among them, but I’ve come to believe that the single most important factor responsible for the blessings in my life today is that early on I somehow acquired a religious attitude. As I wrote in my Dec. 21, 2010 post, “Sophia’s Gift of Meaning,” by “religious” I do not mean believing in specific creeds that reflect personal or cultural biases. I mean having reverence for the unconscious, unknown otherness in the world and ourselves. How did I acquire my reverence for life? I honestly don’t know. But Carl Jung believed it is essential to a whole life well-lived and I’m inclined to agree with him.

At this time of the summer solstice, may we cultivate reverence for the miracle of new life bursting forth from every seed. Happy traveling to your soul’s favorite summer camp.

 

That’s Amore: A Father’s Day Tribute June 14, 2011

In 1904 a young man named Antonio Raffa stepped off the boat onto Ellis Island with a small bag of belongings, $9.00 in his pocket, and hope for a better life. His first act was to kneel and kiss the ground. As he told us years later, there was nothing for him in his small hill town near Messina, Sicily where his only choices were to be poor or join the Mafia. Neither option sounded good to him. With help from his older brother Phillip who was living in New York, Antonio established a barber shop in Brooklyn and settled in.

The next year Phillip returned to Italy and chose the lovely Giovannina Iannelli to be Antonio’s wife. Escorted by her parents, “Jenny” came to America and met Antonio over dinner on Friday night. They were married the next day. After a while she contracted a lung infection and their growing family left Brooklyn for the mountain air in the Catskills town of Liberty, NY. This is where Anthony Raffa, Jr.,or “Tony,” the third of four sons, spent his youth. (He’s the third son from the left in the picture.)

Growing up as children of Italian immigrants wasn’t always easy in those days and Antonio wanted his sons to have every advantage. His first rule was to speak English. The second was to work hard and do well in school. The third was never to leave their house without being well-dressed and immaculately groomed. Tony Jr. was an especially intelligent, well-meaning, and attractive young man, (he could have been Ronald Coleman’s double with his wavy black hair and thin moustache), who thrived in the land of opportunity and made his parents proud.

After working his way through the College of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri where he joined the Acacia club, played the violin in a small combo, and paid his bills by ironing his friends’ shirts for four cents apiece, Tony returned to Liberty and started a medical practice on the downstairs floor of a Victorian house on Main Street. When he married Julia Vera Segar, a nurse of Scotch-Irish descent, they set up housekeeping above the office. My husband is their firstborn son, Fred. His favorite memory from those days is of coming home from school and meeting Rocky Marciano whom his dad was secretly treating in preparation for his upcoming match with Roland La Starza! Wouldn’t the paparazzi have had a field day if they had known?

Sadly, Vera died after the birth of their second son. Five years later Tony married Helen Scobell, a home-economics extension agent, and they moved to Tampa where he was blessed with three more healthy children, a thriving medical practice, a sophisticated home filled with art, music and laughter, and a country club membership. Active in the Masonic Lodge, he was awarded the 33rd Degree and became a Noble in the Mystic Order of the Shrine. Tony retired from his medical practice at age 74 and lost his second love, Helen, to cancer at 82.  At 85 he married Winn Wiley who still fills his life with love.

Unlike his feisty, cigar-smoking bantam rooster father, my fun-loving and even-tempered father-in-law is the most humble, gentle and tolerant man I’ve ever known. I’ve never heard him criticize anyone or speak an unkind word, never seen him angry. As one whose favorite saying is, “Family is the most important thing,” he brought his parents to Tampa and looked after them until they died. Last weekend I was reminded of the wisdom of these words when his family and friends gathered to celebrate his 100th birthday!  I can’t imagine my life without him, his son Fred, or our children and grandchildren.

Family. As Dean Martin, a fellow Italian-American, once sang, “That’s amore!”  Happy Father’s Day to Tony and fathers everywhere. May your lives overflow with amore!

 

Humanizing Mr. Hyde June 11, 2011

A few weeks ago I dreamed my husband was critical of me for wanting to leave a social situation. I felt wounded and angry, and when I asked him why he was being so mean, he held up a mirror and I was embarrassed to see a silly-looking woman wearing outdated black-rimmed cat’s eye glasses and a goofy black hat with fluffy puffs of tulle over each ear.

This dream dramatized some uncomfortable feelings and ways of seeing myself that had been accumulating after six days and nights of intense social interactions. I had looked forward to these activities and enjoyed them, but for an introvert, a schedule like this can be very draining and when I’m exhausted I start worrying that maybe I’m too uptight, too out of touch, too eccentric, too withdrawn, wearing the wrong clothes, saying stupid things, blah, blah, blah!

What I saw in the mirror was a caricature of the “too-whatever” negative self-image I had built up over that week. I think Dream Mother was showing me how silly I was being in an attempt to get me to lighten up. She also wanted me to see what was happening to my animus, symbolized in this dream by my husband.  Normally my masculine side is a hard-working, enthusiastic, very helpful Dr. Jekyll/writing partner. But too much socializing had tired him out and transformed him into his shadow, and this stressed-out Mr. Hyde was taking out his frustration on me.

If I were a hermit with no family or friends it would be easy to protect myself from energy drains. Being alone and  having plenty of time to get in touch with myself and my surroundings is very restorative. But I love a man who gets energy from being with people and cramming as many activities as he can into every day.  Over the years we’ve adjusted to each others’ styles and gotten pretty good at compromising, but changes in routine still present challenges.

Traveling is particularly challenging. As I write this we’ve just returned from a 12-day trip to Italy with dear old friends. We love to travel, adore our friends and had a marvelous time. But to my way of thinking, we established an overly zealous schedule without enough down time. Tensions mounted all around as we rushed to buy tickets, make connections, navigate our car through annoying roundabouts on crowded roads, reach destinations, see sights, buy gifts, and still be on time for dinner reservations. Despite my determination to stay calm and centered, by the end of the trip my dream of a few weeks ago was playing out in my waking life. So it was that over dinner on the last night, Mr. Hyde, who had had quite enough of being repressed, thank you, pushed Dr. Jekyll aside and kidnapped my personality!

While Mr. Hyde was being critical and attaching blame, my ego, like my dream ego, was looking into the mirror of myself.  Feeling painfully embarrassed about how silly I must have looked I went to our room and began to meditate. After a while I remembered that nobody was responsible for my feelings but me. I lightened up, got over my snit, and tucked Mr. Hyde into bed for a much-needed rest.

Wholeness does not abide at either pole of any continuum but swings somewhere in between. No one but us can find our soul’s sweet spot. Seeing and owning our dark sides is half the battle. The other half is forgiving ourselves for being human so we can recover our humanity.

 

The Spiritual Path of Following Bear June 7, 2011

Until I was about 47 my spirituality was guided by the God of Christianity. But somehow this was never quite enough. I thought religion was supposed to have all the answers to the mysteries of life and fully satisfy my every yearning, yet I was haunted by a spiritual hunger I could not satisfy. When the emptiness was particularly painful I would wonder guiltily, Can this truly be all there is to life? Just behaving well, keeping God’s rules, serving him through organized religion, and embracing “correct” beliefs about him? If so, why isn’t it enough for me? Is there something terribly wrong with me?

Finally I reached a point when I could no longer ignore the fact that my religion’s symbols and rituals were as cold and dead to me as fossils frozen in stone. Then I discovered Jungian psychology and sparks began to fly. To keep the fire stoked I began a program of study and dreamwork. To my delight, the personal insights I gained were extraordinarily revitalizing. And not just in a psychological sense. The process of self-discovery was also satisfying my spiritual hunger in a way organized religion had ceased to do!

That was when I knew spirituality is a process of inner growth and the Mystery of God is Love. Whatever our cultures and religions might call it — Jehovah or Allah, Shiva or Shakti, Father or Mother, Holy Spirit, Kundalini, Beloved or Life — this Love is a very real entity which pervades everything in the universe, including human beings.

Love lives in the deep well of every soul where it stirs beneath layers of beliefs and assumptions that blanket our authentic selves.  It paints masterpieces in our dreams, croons lullabies  in comforting memories, sends gifts in synchronistic events.  It swells our hearts in a lover’s kiss, a baby’s smile, the ocean’s roar, a scattering of wildflowers beside the road, the cool sanctuary of a forest cathedral.  No matter how much we may have been hurt, no matter how much we may have hurt others, it rejoices with every breath we take and every beat of our heart singing, “You are known. You are loved. You are alive. You are life.”

Jung had a name for the individual piece of universal Love that flows through every soul;  he called it the archetype of the Self.  The Self has called out to seekers throughout history saying, “Live, Baby, live! Grow, Baby, grow!”  The ego’s desire to answer this call forms the basis of every religion. The fact that my religion no longer served my growth did not mean there was something wrong with me. Nor did it negate the holy Mystery at the heart of every religion. It was just a signal that I had stopped honoring the sacred new life bubbling up within me.

For me, the golden bear symbolizes the Self in its feminine aspect:  the infinitely powerful and empowering kind of all-embracing maternal love that leads to universal Love and spiritual renewal.  Love’s tracks are everywhere:  in our soul’s truths, in our heart’s desires, in messages from our bodies, in the changes that wake us up and shake us up, in everything that lights our passion and keeps it burning. By opening to growth and change and pursuing the things we love we learn to love ourselves. By learning to love ourselves we learn to love others. With every step we take we move closer to embodying Love in every aspect of our lives.  How could this not be a spiritual path?

I wish you Godspeed as you follow Bear to the Love within you.

 

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 

 

The Golden Bear June 4, 2011

Last June I wrote two posts about the symbolism of bears. Now I’d like to tell you how my interest in bears came about. Twenty-two years ago I decided to forgo college teaching and follow my passion to write only of things that held meaning for me. For months I wrote without an agenda about every denizen of the deep that captured my interest. Often these topics presented themselves via haunting dream images that would not re-submerge. Then, one morning while reflecting at my makeup mirror, I reeled in a fairy tale. Parts of it were modeled on the old Grimm brothers’ tale, The Handless Maiden. But other parts were original to me. I realized this was a story about my personal journey and the very thing I needed to tie together the heretofore unconnected threads of the book I was weaving.

My fairy tale contained the requisite princess, castle, queen, and king, as well as a dangerous wilderness with fierce beasts and a raging river. It also featured a remote island with an intriguing princess-sized hut; over the front doorway was a sign that read, “All Who Enter Are Free.” I followed my instincts with the fervor of a bloodhound as this story spun itself out piece by tantalizing piece; I was definitely on to something here.

But one important detail eluded my understanding. Something profoundly compelling had to lure the princess away from all that was familiar and draw her into the wilderness. Otherwise, why would she leave? I knew her departure from the castle of conformity was crucial to the fairy tale because it represented the pivotal transition of my life; but I needed a powerful symbol to express the overwhelming compulsion that had emboldened me to abandon the safe prison of my closed mind. I needed a big, dangerous animal, something that fills the princess with awe and dread while fascinating her beyond reason. And then I knew: it had to be a bear.

In Mark of the Bear Paul Schullery writes “…the bear was a primary presence in early human religion (and if you’ve met one, it’s not hard to understand why). We turned to it even before we found our way to the huge variety of superhuman and supernatural deities that peopled the world’s later belief systems.

“Nor did the power of the bear fade when all these later belief systems flourished. Human ecologist Paul Shepard says that “the bear is the most significant animal in the history of metaphysics in the northern hemisphere.” Indeed, Shepard maintains that even when humans became largely urban and lost touch with wild landscapes, they didn’t really leave the bear behind; they simply brought it along in subtle, even subconscious forms, so that it haunts us as an image and an idea, somehow all the more powerful for being so remote.”

I didn’t know all this when I wrote my fairy tale and finished my book, The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth. I knew only that a magnificent golden bear was somehow the perfect guide for a princess on the quest for self-discovery and freedom. But as I have read more about bears, surrounded myself with images of them, sought out flesh and blood examples in my waking life, and studied those that visit my dreams, they have become profoundly meaningful spiritual symbols for me.

More about this next time.

 

 
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